Societies Role in History

Considering the needs of historians to understand history is important but the public spheres interpretation of that history and how it reflects upon their account of the past is equally as important. Filene observes the importance of not objectively labelling something correct or important. I felt that this reading was the most influential in understanding the importance of approaching new and important subjects for public historians. A lot of academic historians may have good reasons to label a certain topic as relevant, but by ignoring public history, they can’t establish that facts are accurate to everyday people. This becomes especially troublesome when it’s used to make historians accept something they don’t like. The staunch criticism to the program, “The Valour and the Horror” exemplifies this. Despite the academic backing this series had it had an immense conflict with the public spheres interpretation of this time period. Credibility, while interpreted as uncomplicated, instead proved to be intricate, undermining the whole series based on public historians witness statements.
The importance of laymen in the historical records has become much more transparent in the digital age where people have access to a wider range of information. The success of the Slavery in New York exhibit is the perfect example of this. Credibility was established based on recordings and other unorthodox sources. In Corbett and Millar’s “A Shared Inquiry in Shared Inquiry” the importance of understanding societies view on a historical event was coupled with the fact that it cannot be allowed to suffocate equally important information. By conforming to established beliefs, public history loses its credibility and authority. It turns out that ignoring public history is a guaranteed way to destroy people’s interest in history. An artificial barrier is created between public historians and academic historians.

WordPress Sites Live!

Hey folks! Your personal websites are now live! These are your own personal ‘sandboxes’ – think of them as you do the Wikipedia sandboxes, as places to experiment and learn how to use a tool you’re going to put to more serious use later on.

Introducing WordPress

You can find your site at, where ‘yourfirstname’ is, that’s right, your first name, as you spell it in the class or on the website (if you’re using a strange alias I just chose your actual first name). You’ll need to complete the registration process; this will take a few moments as the database is initialized and a bunch of new plugins are installed.

Please take some time this weekend to familiarize yourself with this software. You’ve been using it this term to write your blog posts, but now that you have admin access to a site you’ll start to understand it much better. I want you to notice a couple of things in particular. When you log in you’ll see the familiar WordPress dashboard, but there are a few new additions:

  • “Appearance” gives you control over all aspects of the site’s appearance. Try to fool around a little with the themes and menus so that you come to understand them better.
  • “Plugins” lists the additional funtionality that has been installed along with WordPress. Pretty much anything you want to with WordPress, there’s a plugin for it. Probably 5 or 10, in fact. Feel free to instal some new ones.
  • “Custom Content Types” controls the custom content types available on your site. More about that in a sec.
  • Almost all of this stuff (except the last bit) is discussed in the documentation (“First steps with WordPress”). You really, really should check it out. The web is your friend on this one.

Here’s a screenshot to help you out:

Your Mission Should You Choose To Accept It

Over the course of the year you will be taking a blank slate like this one and turning it into a vehicle to express our views & create a community around the issue you work on. Take some time this weekend to turn your empty WordPress installation into a website with purpose. Maybe you want to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Martian invasion? Or perhaps you will work to build a website for a community of Etruscan philologues. Whatever the topic, think about how the subject matter should structure the presentation of your material. Do you need just one menu, or do you need sidebar navigation (think about how retronaut works)? How can you invite the community to contribute? How much instruction does your site need? And so forth. The point, really, is to get you thinking about design issues and how deeply they intrude into the creative process in a project like this.

Next Week

Next Week we will be learning about WordPress themes. You may want to give yourself a headstart by reading some of the documentation, as well as more advanced topics.

Custom Content Types

We use the awe-inpiring Custom Content Type Manager, which vastly enhances WP’s native capabilities. To activate it you’re going to have to go to the “Tools” tab of the Custom Content Types options screen:

You want to Import a CCT definitions file – in this case, the one called “historicalimagesoct2012.cctm.json”. This will allow you to use the historical images content type you’ve seen in action on the ‘microscope’ website – though, actually, not quite, but you’ll at least be able to see how you would create such images. Check it out, if you have time, and familiarize yourself with the interface. Maybe you want to create your own CCT’s? If so feel free – remember, this site is your playground

Final Note

One unusual customization – I’ve given myself backdoor access to all your sitesThis way, if you somehow lose all access to your site (that shouldn’t be possible!) I can at least get into the site and help you out.

OK – have fun, and happy Thanksgiving!

Lab 03: Understanding Wikipedia

These are some notes about what we’ll be doing in class during the lab period. I’ll post these whenever I have a chance, both to give you a chance to get ahead and to give you an opportunity to look back on what we’ve done afterwards.

We’ve read a lot about how Wikipedia works, but it’s worth looking more closely at the process. Let’s go through a few steps:

Sign up for an account

To edit Wikipedia you need to be logged in. Create an account here. Edit your basic user preferences. Then under “Watchlist”, check the box labelled “Add pages and files I edit to my watchlist” (near the bottom).

Pick some very active pages to follow (just for now)

e.g., iPhone 5, Syrian civial War, United States presidential election, 2012. Now go back to your watchlist and subscribe to the RSS feed. Consider using Google Reader to start managing your RSS feeds.

Experiment with the syntax in the sandbox

Click on the “My Sandbox” link near the top of the page. This will take you to a kind of practice room where you can get used to Wikipedia syntax before heading off into the real world. Hmm, what should you write about?

Check out history & discussion on some interesting pages

For us (writing local history) one area of interest is the History of Toronto series. Make sure you look at the ‘Talk” pages. Also look at the Toronto Project which has a number of important links.

Try a few edits

Scrolling down the Toronto Project you will find that the pages have been rated for quality. Using the Wikipedia Quality Scale you can see what pages need the kind of help you might be able to give. Now feel free to dive in; then see what happens!